Thursday, May 31, 2012

Getting in and out of a sea kayak is not sexy . . .

While testing the Current Designs Suka sea kayak, I asked the camera guy to take some interesting shots of edging the kayak, the forward stroke, and me doing the Cowboy Scramble.

But he also captured the less sexy kayak moments, like getting in and out of the kayak. And it made me think, "You know what? This isn't cute, but it's a very important topic and a big reality we face every time we paddle, and many times during a paddle."
We have to be able to get in and out of our kayaks quickly and easily, especially if we are upside-down. If you own a fibreglass kayak, you have to master this and have a strategy for getting out of the kayak in the water before you hit the shore and the rocks. I wouldn't want to try a surf landing, but you never know when you might not have much choice.

Before testing a sea kayak I look at all the parts. When I paddle the boat, I think of paddling scenarios. Which kayak would I like to be in when . . .
  • the water is rough, moving, or smooth like glass
  • the wind is strong
  • someone else needs help
  • I get dumped over unexpectedly
  • I want to take a rolling lesson
  • I want to balance brace
  • I want to play in waves or current
  • I have to launch from a difficult shoreline, etc.
So here it is, a narrow, sleek, 21 inch wide, 16'6'' long, 46 lbs, low volume sea kayak with a small, nicely fitting keyhole cockpit (for me anyway), and a twitchy hard chine making me look and feel clumsy while the wind and waves push me around as I get in. 
People thought I needed help. Or, more likely, they just wanted to save the kayak from the rocks.

Kayaking can be a humbling experience. Like riding a horse, the horse can make you look good one day and you feel you can do no wrong. Everything is in sync. The next day, the same rider and horse can look like they've never met before and don't belong.

Getting in and out of the kayak quickly and easily is job number one.

You should be able to do this the first time you test a kayak or don't buy the kayak. If you already have a kayak that doesn't let you do this, get rid of it. I'm just thinking out loud here. If getting in and out of a kayak is a fitness issue, kayaking is a great motivator for getting in shape and working on flexibility. It's not like riding a bike. I'll complain about kayaks with difficult to adjust foot braces later.

When I test a kayak, I think about some of the things I'll do with it, and the conditions I'll have to deal with, or want to play in.

Sometimes we launch and land at places that are very kayak friendly.
Sometimes not.
But, once we get in,
Testing the Current Designs Suka
or get on,
we forget about all that other stuff!

I still own a Maelstrom Vital 166 and Boreal Baffin, some of the best sea kayaks that I love. But it's still fun to shop for another fleet member. Two's company, three's a crowd? Nope! Not when it comes to sea kayaks. More is better.

Happy boat trials!
The BaffinPaddler

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Cherpit.
Thanks to Ottawa Paddle Shack for letting me test the sleek and fast Current Designs Suka, and the staff for helping me get in and out of the kayak!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Say hello to my little friends . . . the joys of kayaking the Tay River in Perth, Ontario, Canada

Some of the biggest joys of kayaking are . . . little friends.

Some friends are very lazy. They just hitch a free ride. We all have friends like that sometimes . . . right?
Big friends seem small when they are so far away.
Friends come in all shapes and sizes. And all makes and models. Sometimes, there are lots of them!
Public boat launch on the Tay River with free parking at Last Duel Park, Perth, Ontario
Some little friends have very important jobs to do. We don't want to get too close to them. We use the zoom on our cameras.
Mother bird guarding her nest on the Tay.
Boat channel markers on the Tay.
Paddle buddies and wildflowers in the Tay marshes.
Locks, lockmasters, parking spaces, picnic tables and clean restrooms. If only they would build kayak friendly ramps for us at lock stations. Boat docks and cement walls are not your friends. They are harder to launch from. Be careful.
Say hello to my little friends. They are your friends too!

Beautiful water fountains, downtown Perth, Ontario, Canada
Kayaking the Tay River canal and marsh, Perth, Ontario, Canada with a few friends . . . awesome! Thanks to all!
These images were taken on the beautiful Tay Canal and Tay Marsh near Perth, Ontario. Enjoy!

For information on how to plan your own paddle on the Tay Canal and Marsh see:

A perfect paddle on the Tay Canal from Perth, Ontario!

Happy paddle trails!
The BaffinPaddler

Monday, May 21, 2012

Persistent Perch: Fishing with some pretty strange bait!

I was kayaking and swimming in a local lake in the National Capital Region of Canada on a hot May day that peaked in the 80s (30 Celsius) and made a new underwater friend unexpectedly.

He has pointy teeth, fins, and was about a foot and a half long.

I decided to paddle wearing the same gear as almost everyone else on the lake: a swimsuit! It was so hot. But unlike many others I added a PFD and paddle shoes.

I thought I would be able to swim for a few minutes in the cold water and do a Cowboy Scramble up my Boreal Baffin.

Even under dressed for the water temperatures, I was pretty sure I could do at least one Cowboy Scramble. I wanted to see what would happen to someone who fell in.

But I had trouble convincing myself to get into the deeper, colder lake water from the warmer shallow waters along the shoreline. Even in May it was still freezing cold. I stood there for awhile with the water only up to my knees.

"Wow. Without a wet suit, it's a big shock!" No way was I going to practice jumping into the water from my boat or dump myself over wearing only a swim suit.

Then I looked down at my feet.
A large fish had wandered over. The benefits of standing still for awhile and not going into cold water improperly dressed, I thought.
The fish kept coming closer to my paddle booties until he was only two inches away.

He would swim away a little, then charge forward. His mouth was open. I saw his teeth.
"What's he doing? Does he think I'm food? Is he defending his hunting grounds, or is he just a big, curious fish?"

Then I remembered a paddle buddy who reported a hungry fish striking her bare toes while on a swim one year in this lake and taking away a little skin. She recommended swimming with paddle booties. It was hard to believe. But I suddenly became a believer.

And I was about to go for a swim wearing very little gear in one of her favourite swimming spots. "Hey, are you that fish!?"

My paddle partner came over to take a look: "That is a big fish. He's not shy either. The fish are really hungry in spring. Too bad I didn't bring my fishing gear."

Me: "I don't think we need it. Look, he likes my feet!"

I was ready to throw myself into the cold water wearing only my swimsuit and a kayak PFD to see how well I'd fare. But now, I was a little scared of the fish! I know it sounds stupid, but you didn't see his teeth.

We threw rocks into the water nearby to scare the fish away.

Before the water cleared, he came back.
I jumped forward anyway into deeper water. "Uh, uh, uh, OH MAMMA!" 

Immediately, I could feel a light squeezing pressure in my chest. That's the heart and lungs complaining and warning you that the sudden shock of cold water is not a good thing. The mouth comes gaping open. It's a gasp reflex and that's how you can suck in cold water when you should be keeping your mouth closed. But my head didn't go underwater and I was only inches from solid footing.

Then, I got out of the cold water, put on my wet suit and PFD for safety, and went for a nice 10-15 minute swim with the fish.
He didn't bite. And neither did the cold water when I was properly dressed for the water temperatures. It was nice!

At the end of the day, I paddled back to the boat launch wearing my long sleeve wet suit top. I paddled past scores of people in kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddle boards wearing only t-shirts and shorts, 50% of them had no PFD.

Wow, I thought, if only you knew what you risk. Too bad that the only time you find out may be your last. But seeing little kids in boats dressed like that with their parents is difficult for me to watch.

I feel there isn't enough media to inform people about the dangers of hypothermia and what the general water temperatures are in spring, summer and fall. I think there should be warning signs at boat launches and public beaches. 

When I paddled the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior from Bayfield, Wisconsin in the U.S., there were warning signs at most boat launches, warning people about the dangers of cold water and to "Respect the lake. The Lake is the BOSS!" The water is always cold there and the wind is serious. It certainly made me think twice and take extra precautions when paddling there.

People don't seem to be as cautious when paddling close to home on local rivers and smaller lakes. 

Too many stores today are selling small recreational paddle craft and gear, like hardware stores and general stores. A lot of them just sell stuff. They don't sell the most important item: knowledge of the sport and its dangers. Anyone can buy a boat and hop onto all kinds of waterways without any knowledge or skill. Paddling is becoming a more and more popular sport and this is becoming a more and more important topic.

Stay warm. Play safe.

Test your gear in a safe way or bother to purchase some! A swim suit is not cold water paddling gear. Spring waters in Canada are cold. Some water is too cold to swim in or fall into without a wet suit or dry suit year round.

A long-sleeved wet suit, paddle jacket, or a dry suit is also great protection from sunburn and from those biting bugs on the shore. Don't assume your big brown Labrador dog can swim to shore in cold water if he jumps out of your boat far from shore, especially not without a doggie life jacket.
Good paddlers are snappy dressers!
Happy paddle trails!
The BaffinPaddler

A follow up to this story:

A Meet up with Persistent Perch's babies in June

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Top Ten Traits of a Dedicated Paddler

Bed's not made and never is.

Laundry's never done unless someone else does it.

House is a mess.

Grass is not mowed.

You call in sick again at work.

There is gas in the car.

Kayak is loaded and properly secured on car. (Don't forget the front and rear tie downs.)
An awesome lunch is packed.

Face is unshaven (if you are a guy). If you are a girl, you got up 30 minutes earlier to put on waterproof mascara.

And the number one trait of a Dedicated Paddler is . . . 
A BIG SMILE ON YOUR FACE . . . because you have more than one awesome sea kayak!

Did I miss any other important traits . . . ?
 Happy paddle trails!
(c) The BaffinPaddler 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Wrestling my big yellow alligator: Cowboy scramble up the Boreal Baffin in Canada's cold waters

It's that time of year again, MAY! Yeah! Time to get up close and personal with the sea kayak, paddling gear, and that wet stuff I didn't spend any time with for the last six long months of Canada's finicky weather.

This year, I didn't do my first spring paddle with the Boreal Baffin hanging out on an ice shelf along the Ottawa River's shore. That was a little stupid. I wasn't dressed for slipping into water that cold with only a wet suit and no neo hoodie.

This year's first spring paddle with the Boreal Baffin was a hot, sunny May day, 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit), with a light wind at a small lake lined with cottages in Mont Tremblant, Quebec.

The beach we launched from was full of people dressed in bathing suits, shorts and t-shirts enjoying a good spring sunburn. Little kids were running in and out of the chilly water exhilarated, yelling, "Mommy! It's cold!"
Yes, the water in May is still cold so I'll do another stupid thing this year and test my gear after 2 hours of paddling when I'm a little tired and very hungry.

I'll do a Cowboy Scramble, close to shore for safety, and test how well I can do it under a little stress to see if this manoeuvre is really implanted in the memory of my brain and body parts. 

I haven't practiced the Cowboy Scramble for 6 months. During my normal paddle season in Canada from April or May to October or November, I do the Cowboy Scramble almost every time I paddle, at least once. Sometimes 5 or 6 times during a paddle for fun, or to cool off and stretch out, and most importantly, to make sure I can get back into my boat by myself.

I didn't want to test my gear choice before my first spring paddle and find out it wasn't right. But, I got it right! A full wet suit, with a nylon spandex underlayer (actually my yoga gear), and neo booties and gloves. I don't have a dry suit yet. While in the water, I had a good five to ten minutes of, "This feels nice!" That is, as long as I didn't put my head in the water. I'd need a neo hoodie and ear plugs for that.

There are lots of paddlers who are awesome rollers, yet many of them have trouble with the Cowboy Scramble. I can't roll (yet . . . ) but I can scramble. And I love it!

Some of the guy paddlers have watched me Cowboy Scramble and say, "Hey, that looks really cool. It's impressive. I have never been able to do it. Will you teach me?"

I'm not an instructor but I have coached a couple of guys who were never able to do it before and surprised me by getting it the first time.

So here goes, a Cowboy Scramble up the Boreal Baffin in cold water with a few tips on how I do it:
Step one: Get into the water next to your boat with water too deep for you to stand up. No cheating by practicing from solid footing. You remembered to secure your glasses or sun glasses in a hatch, right? They don't float. 

Smile for the camera! After step one, you aren't going to look cute again until it's over! Make sure your PFD is well-secured. If it's loose and ill-fitting, it will just get in your way. If you can smile, you're probably dressed appropriately for the water temperature. If not, get out of the water and try this when you can smile at step one instead of cringe and shiver.
Step two: Put the tab of your spray skirt between your teeth and smile some more! You know you look silly and don't care. Or attach your spray skirt tab with a quick release clip to the top/shoulder of your PFD if you don't trust the water quality. You don't want your spray skirt stuck between your legs once you get up onto the kayak. Pulling my skirt up this way also helps me slide up onto the boat more easily, and my bulky kayak jacket and kayak knife don't get hung up on a deck line or bungee.
Step three: Face your boat, hang onto your paddle and the far side of your kayak. I like to come up just behind my back hatch. I find it easier.

Step four: Count ONE, TWO, THREE, take a deep breath to make yourself buoyant, KICK your legs to bring them up horizontal with your boat, and slide up onto the back deck of your beautiful kayak like Flipper the dolphin.
Take a moment to balance and exhale. This is the first moment of truth in the Cowboy Scramble. You're out of the water and didn't pull the kayak on top of yourself. And you had to do all the stuff in Step four all at once! Congratulations if you made it this far.
Step five: Swing your leg over your kayak and straddle your boat. This is where you look like you're wrestling an alligator. And it may feel that way too if the water is bumpy and you've got a skinny Greenland style boat!
Step six: Keep your paddle in front of you as you slide up by grabbing onto the deck lines or boat sides and inch worm your body up to the cockpit. Don't kick your legs in the water as you pull yourself up to the cockpit. I see lots of people who struggle and fail do this. But, hey, if it works for you . . . do whatever works.

Also, never hold the paddle so that it's directly under your neck if your head is close to the kayak when you do this manoeuvre.

During one practice session, my Greenland paddle was across my cockpit as I pulled myself up and my head and neck were just a few inches above it. A big wave or a boat wake hit the boat, and I banged my trachea (windpipe) on my paddle. Ouch and dangerous. So be careful.

In the picture above, my paddle is in my lap as I get to the cockpit so I can grab it as I ease into the seat and brace or paddle off quickly if I need to. And I'm keeping my head up.
Step seven: You've got to get your butt into the seat first, then your legs. Hopefully you have a generous enough keyhole cockpit like the awesome Boreal Baffin, not a small, round ocean cockpit. A lot of people fail when they try to get into the cockpit.
Sometimes I sit up on the back deck and ease myself in with one hand holding the paddle and top of the cockpit, the other hand behind me at the back of the cockpit for balance. You may need to sit on the back deck and brace a few times before you crawl in if you're in bumpy water or start to lose your balance. It's a nice moment to relax if you're not in a hurry.
Step eight: Claim victory! You made it, even if you didn't look graceful. Your spray skirt is back on the kayak and you look cute again! Smile for the camera! Soon, you'll be doing all these steps in 10 seconds.

Now it's time to show off those beautiful edges on the Boreal Baffin.

Cowboy Scramble Tips 
  • Take kayaking lessons with a qualified instructor.
  • Keep the back deck of the kayak free of gear. This is your work space for the scramble!
  • Practice slowly in calm water at first.
  • Be patient with yourself. I couldn't Cowboy Scramble for years until an instructor gave me some useful tips . . . "Try it further back behind your rear hatch. Don't pull on the kayak!"
  • When you get good at the Cowboy Scramble in calm water, gradually test your skill in bigger wind and waves with a paddle buddy nearby in case you need assistance. Be reasonable. Don't press your luck in dangerous conditions.
  • Watch out when and where you practice. Wind can blow you quickly into obstacles and rocks. Cold water can be deadly. Dress appropriately and practice closer to shore.
  • Stay away from boat channels. 
  • Practice with the different types of gear you paddle in: t-shirt and shorts, wet suit, dry suit, bare hands and gloves. I find it easier to scramble in a full wet suit. When I wear shorts, my bare legs don't slide and get stuck on the boat.
  • Choose your PFD wisely. Some PFDs are short, thick, and bulky in front and may make it more difficult for you to scramble up onto your boat.
  • When you've really got the Cowboy Scramble down, go for speed. See how fast you can do it. It may come in handy some day.
Cowboy scrambling into your kayak can be a life saver or a great way to cool off if you need to jump out and scramble back in. Some shorelines are very unfriendly and you can't get out of your boat for long stretches.

I love jumping out over the side of the boat and cowboy scrambling back in on long paddles to stretch out and cool down sore muscles. It really gets my adrenalin going if I'm feeling lazy or bored.

Here's a link to my post: Cowboy Scramble up the Maelstrom Vital 166 in summer gear.

It's nice to finally get out on the water this year. I feel like the BaffinPaddler again with lots of wet, sandy gear hanging all over the house and garage.
Good luck with your Cowboy Scramble!
Let us know if you finally get it and keep it! Or, learn to love it . . .
The BaffinPaddler

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Gear Check. What's your zipper doin'!

Cycling the Waterfront Trail, Cornwall, Ontario, Canada
This is the most important girl zipper check when cycling.

With cooler spring temperatures and wind this year, I forgot how many layers I had put on before I ran out of layers and shouldn't zip down to the belly any more to cool down.

Zippers are on my mind.

The big zips. The monsters of all zippers. Dry suit zippers! The terrors of paddling. You have nightmares about getting yours open. No? You have strong wrists and big biceps maybe? Even so, it's not easy to get outta that dry suit by yourself?

When a paddle buddy turns red, purple, then blue in the face and gasps, "Can you help me with my zipper . . . ", he really needs help with it, and probably so will you!

I've resisted buying a dry suit year after year because I can't get the zippers to move when I test them in the store.

The store assistant says, "But they have this wax . . . it helps."

So I asked which brand I should try. "Level Six or Kokatat?"

Store assistant: "Level Six doesn't make dry suits for girls. They say there isn't a big enough market for that."

Me: "How sexist!"

Maybe it's because we have trouble with the zippers? And I have lots of Level Six gear! Then, I remembered the easy and ironic chuckle of the 14th Dalai Lama who was just in Ottawa April 28th.  He has a big message for compassion.

OK, here's my compassionate take on this situation, "How nice that Level Six has left the female dry suit market to Kokatat."

Store assistant: "And Kokatat dry suits are the best anyway."

Me: "Awesome! So let's try one on!"

Now what about size? I'm a 5'6", 125 pound girl and the small is a bit too short. I'll have to try a medium. If that doesn't work - out of luck!

Any suggestions for colour? The purple is no longer available. The blue is nice. Or do you go with the bright orange that everyone can spot!

Now, how is that zipper? 
All good. SNAP!

Happy paddles!
The BaffinPaddler